The James Royal Palm as We Knew It

November 01, 2012 | by —tom austin | Pursuits

The original Royal Palm hotel in downtown Miami, 1901

The brand-spanking-new James Royal Palm hotel is all about the postmodern order of South Beach, embellished with ironic nods to the past and money. This is another stab at the Grand Hotel dialectic, and as it happens, the original Royal Palm began in the ultimate big-time era, the robber-baron epoch of America.

In 1897, the first Royal Palm opened smack dab in the heart of downtown Miami, a year after the city was incorporated by its 312 registered voters. In this 1901 postcard image of the graceful Colonial Revival property, the focus is on a portico made for high-roller entrances. At the time, the hotel was flanked by Biscayne Bay and the then-pristine Miami River, a Paul Gauguin fantasy still used by Seminole Indians; the site now boasts the rather more pedestrian Epic Hotel and Southeast Financial Center (which used to be the Wachovia Financial Center). The Royal Palm was built by Henry Flagler’s minions, part of a string of gilded glory hotels—stretching from St. Augustine’s Hotel Ponce de Leon to the Casa Marina in Key West—that accompanied his Florida East Coast Railway. Money goes to money: Colonel John Jacob Astor, who would die on the Titanic in 1912, was one of the Royal Palm’s first guests.

In 1930, the Royal Palm, after taking hits from a killer hurricane and, more prosaically, termites, was quietly demolished, going out with a whimper. In 1939, the first Miami Beach incarnation opened, on the site where today’s James Royal Palm is situated. Since then, various owners have expanded and boutique-ized the property; the current owner is KSL Capital Partners, a powerful corporation with countless hotels. Henry Flagler is long gone, though it’s interesting to think what his response would have been to a Royal Palm hotel that touts rooms with eco-friendly Keetsa pillows and iPod/mp3 docking stations.


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